Lurie says Eagles doing business as they always have

Jeffrey Lurie watches practice with Andy Reid. "We're about as far from a dream team as we can be," the Eagles owner said.
Jeffrey Lurie watches practice with Andy Reid. "We're about as far from a dream team as we can be," the Eagles owner said. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 05, 2011

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - From Jeff Lurie's point of view, once you strip away the lockout mess and the noise that has engulfed the first week of training camp, the Eagles' approach to the coming season is nothing more than business as usual.

"We're doing what we always do," Lurie said Thursday at the Lehigh University practice fields. "We don't feel that philosophically there's been any change."

His view is that the team always spends to the salary cap, always puts the best team possible on the field, and always enters the season with the singular goal of winning a championship. If this particular run-up seems more energized or more urgent, that is merely outside perception, augmented perhaps by a few showy player acquisitions.

"In life, there are a lot of misperceptions," he said.

Well, true enough, although one could quibble that retaining salary-cap space until the end of the season and then pushing it forward with some late contract extensions is not quite the same thing as putting all one's nest eggs into that year's basket. That would be just what it is, though: a quibble.

And certainly, the Eagles have put a representative team on the field, usually a pretty good one, in almost all of Andy Reid's previous 12 seasons as head coach. There were big free-agent signings before this - Jevon Kearse, Asante Samuel, Terrell Owens, among others - and they have positioned themselves for a realistic Super Bowl run before.

This feels different, however, as much as Lurie might insist otherwise. The level of expectation was going to be high no matter what, largely because of Michael Vick's MVP-caliber 2010 season. There were no such expectations a year ago as the Eagles figured to need time to transition from Donovan McNabb to Kevin Kolb, and time to sort out a precarious defensive situation. The defensive problems were never solved - leading to the exit of coordinator Sean McDermott - but Vick's remarkable play helped paper over that deficiency.

In a real way, the expectation curve had been on a decline ever since the messy departure of Owens. That was coupled with the growing sense that great things would simply never happen here for McNabb. The organization was betting that Kolb could be the man, but not everyone was willing to take that bet. Within an amazing 16-month span, both of them would be traded, and, far from taking a step back, the Eagles likely will enter this season as favorites to win the conference and return to the Super Bowl.

Lurie didn't want to fuel that fire when he answered questions at his annual state-of-the-team news conference. He said the Packers were still the team to beat, and threw roses at the Falcons, Saints, Cowboys, Giants, and Rams as well. He didn't mention the Cardinals, and their fine new addition at quarterback, but maybe that was an oversight.

"We're about as far from a dream team as we can be," Lurie said. "The only dream team I know about is the Green Bay Packers. We 'dream' to be as good as the Green Bay Packers and hold that trophy. We're consciously trying to play catch-up in an aggressive way."

It must gall the organization that for all its success - and it is an unquestioned success, both competitively and financially - the trophy has always gone elsewhere. Whether that embarrassment finally reached a critical mass, or whether circumstances have simply collided in a fortunate way, the Eagles have positioned themselves better than ever before to add that missing piece.

"We only have one goal. We've won so many division titles, been in five championship games, the Super Bowl. The only goal for us is to win the Super Bowl," Lurie said. "We've kind of done it all, and the primary and total focus is, 'What is it going to take?' "

We all know the litany of successes. The Eagles have made the postseason in nine of the last 11 seasons. They have averaged more than 10 regular-season wins in that span. They have been as consistent as the stream of fans entering Lincoln Financial Field.

The failures are just as familiar. Postseason games under Reid: 10-9. Postseason games after the divisional round: 1-5. Last playoff win: Jan. 11, 2009.

Someone asked Lurie if he could point to one reason January and February always manage to erase September through December.

"I don't have a great answer for that. It could be the performance of a couple of players. It could be bad luck because a couple of guys couldn't play that day because of injuries. Certain players just thrive in the clutch. Not everybody is Tom Brady," Lurie said.

"You just set yourself up as best as possible. You've got to try to maximize talent and maximize depth, and that doesn't go hand in hand."

He's right that there isn't one easy answer. Otherwise, the problem would be just as easy to solve. The only real answer is that they just weren't good enough in the past. So far in this training camp, the Eagles look like an organization that doesn't want to hear that reason again.

"It's a long season," Lurie said, a little wistfully, "and a lot of it is just a question of playing well in that final game or two."

Yes, we've noticed. And, like it or not, something more is expected this time.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "Post Patterns," at www.philly.com/postpatterns

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